“Pretty in pink, isn’t she? Pretty in pink, isn’t she?” ~ The Pschedelic Furs
Or, as defined by my dictionary
Pink (n): a colour varying from light crimson to pale reddish purple
9.1 million women didn’t vote in the last election and Labour have announced their plan to combat this, in part by launching what I am choosing to call their ‘vanifesto’. Female policitians, driving around the country, in a pink van, talking to women outside school gates and in shopping centres about women’s issues such as childcare, social care, and domestic violence.
I saw a predominantly but not exclusively female backlash to this, describing it as marginalising women, tokenism, and patronising. And this has created a further backlash of predominantly but not exclusive male comments saying that the objections are simply based on the colour of the van when what matters is the message and the fact Labour are wanting to engage with a disenfranchised part of the population.
I think it’s a little from column a, a little from column b situation. So let’s start with the colour.
I love pink. I love bright, in your face, couldn’t miss it with your eyes closed, pink. What I don’t love is pink being seen as the de facto colour for girls. Nor do I love pink things being dismissed as ‘girly’, as though being like a girl was a bad thing. Trying to find clothing for a baby or young girl that doesn’t involve pink is hard, trying to find clothing for a baby or young boy that does is nigh on impossible. It’s a colour, not a gender specification. A boy doesn’t become any less of a boy if he is wearing pink any more than a girl becomes any less of a girl if she is wearing blue. (This, by the way, is also applicable to men who wear pink shirts, just in case anyone who works in my office is reading this.) The campaign for toys to be toys is also a strong example of this. If colours become associated with gender then how does a boy get to play with the pink teddy or the girl get to play with the blue car? In essence, pink is a great colour but it’s not great when seen as only a colour for girls. So maybe it wasn’t a good choice for the van.
But why did it need to be a different colour at all. Harriet Harman said it needed to be different. Why? This is an attempt to engage with people who feel that politics isn’t relevant to them so you are choosing to engage by changing a colour? It’s supposed to be promoting inclusion yet you are already making it more different? Harriet also said they wanted it to look ‘conspicuous’; you’re the Labour party, red is your colour, how much more conspicuous do you need?
Who is in this van? Female politicians. That could be a good thing as it might mean we see a few of them, as there aren’t nearly enough. But it just reinforces the tokenism and separation. Women are going to talk to women to engage with them. What, because men can’t? I fervently believe that we need more women in politics but sending only women to try and make this happen does smack of patronage to me. If this is a Labour van and a Labour vanifesto (sorry not sorry) then let’s have Labour politicians in it. You don’t need to be a woman to engage with another woman and their political or personal issues, you need communication skills, intelligence (of the intellectual and emotional varieties) and empathy, exactly the same as you need to engage with any other voter on any issue.
And the issues, oh the issues. If you try to tell me that childcare is only an issue for women I will point you in the direction of a biology text book. It may something that women list more highly as a concern for them, but it is an issue that affects society, which means, everybody, which includes men. Childcare is not a ‘women’s issue’, it’s a societal issue. Putting articles about it under ‘Women’ moves it away from a front page to some sub headline next to a relationship article. Raising children, affordable nurseries, school catchment areas; these affect the vast majority of the population. Women are not popping out children on their own nor raising them in a vacuum. Children literally are our future and conversations about their care and their education should be at the forefront of political discussions for everyone.
And the same goes for domestic violence. The statistics are horrifying; two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. Two. Women. A. Week. I don’t know why we aren’t all batshit crazy about this every day. But again, this isn’t happening in a vacuum. These are women in your street, in your office, and they are being killed by men in your street, in your office. These women need our support and our protection and these men need stopping and prosecuting and educating. Remember when we started talking about colour and the effect on children? Sterotyping has a detrimental effect and what is learnt as a child is hard to unlearn as an adult.
In summary, do I think that Labour wanting to engage with 9.1 million people who didn’t vote in the last election is a good thing? Yes, I do. I think it’s laudable. But do I think that doing so in this fashion actually highlights alienation and separation? Yes, I do. I don’t think the choice of pink is patronising, I think it’s misguided and unnecessary. And I think that labelling the whole thing as only for women puts vital issues to one side when they should be front square and centre of society as whole.
Interested in your thoughts, as always.
NB.I checked the Labour website for a link to this story but there wasn’t one there therefore I have used a Guardian link as it seemed to contain the most information. If one appears on the Labour website I will readdress this.